The internet has been called many things: a superhighway, the web, the net … a series of tubes. While the quality of any of these individual metaphors might be up for debate, they all suggest one important point: There are always multiple paths for any network traffic to take on the way between point A and point B.
Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) usually determines which path your traffic will take. Its default configurations will pick the path that involves the fewest “hops” between Autonomous System Numbers (often shortened to ASN, a unique identifier for any single network entity connected to the internet).
It’s important to note that ASN hops is not necessarily the same as router hops, so while one provider’s path might comprise the fewest ASN hops, traffic might be passing between many routers, encountering hidden issues along the way.
How BGP Can Limit Application and Network Performance
Most of the time, default BGP is a good enough way to determine how to get data from one place to another. But of course, there are a couple major catches.
- Performance issues: Small delays add up from end to end, resulting in latency. Problems in the physical layer can cause packet loss. Router resource saturation can “blackhole” traffic and keep two points from communicating, even if BGP’s routing tables see it as a valid route.
- Most crucially to many businesses and applications, the default metrics BGP takes into account can’t assess the performance (i.e., latency and packet loss) of any particular path.
These will cause issues for any network, but if your applications or customers aren’t particularly sensitive to network performance, then default BGP routing might be perfectly viable for your business.
Optimizing BGP for Your Application Needs: Options
Yet the inability to route traffic to the best-performing path using default BGP quickly becomes a problem for any performance-sensitive applications, whether running gaming servers, serving up advertisements or hosting financial transactions.
First, you can do nothing. This is not the most highly recommended option, but it’s a decision that might be the simple reality of too few network engineering resources or staff without sufficient experience. The downsides are obvious, but the upside is that this option is extremely friendly to your budget.
If you are connected to INAP’s network, however, doing nothing might be OK: You don’t have to do anything at all to receive the benefits of our route optimization because it’s baked into our entire network. Just by being plugged in with INAP, you are taking advantage of our blend of Tier 1 ISPs, even if your own network is single-homed (or if you don’t have network engineers adjusting BGP).
That brings us to your second option: You can task a team of network engineers to manually manage routing outside of default BGP metrics, whether optimizing for cost of utilization (for multihomed networks), performance or both. This would involve analyzing traffic in depth and then adjusting settings on the fly. The downside to this is that it’s time-consuming and resource-heavy. And since traffic is dynamic, it will always need to be monitored and adjusted on a short time frame to achieve best results.
But the settings will never truly achieve optimal performance—or anything close to it, more likely—simply because analyzing thousands of data points and redirecting traffic across an entire network is not feasible even for the most well-staffed and resourced teams.
This is why INAP’s route optimization technology is so powerful: It takes the manual manipulation out of the equation, giving you and your team time back while providing better performance.
How BGP Automation Can Cure What Ails Your Network
There is a clear best option for handling performance issues with BGP: automation. This option doesn’t require a team of dedicated network engineers—and on top of that, it can give you better performance than any human team ever could. INAP’s Performance IP® does just that, and the technology behind these services is woven into each and every one of our data centers, products and services, using a layer of intelligent automation to optimize network performance.
Its route optimization engine can make millions of prefixed moves within any given Point of Presence (POP), testing routing paths tens of thousands of times (if needed) each and every 90 seconds to determine the best-performing routes for your traffic. And it does it all without any human intervention or direction necessary.
You don’t have to settle for poor network performance. A little bit of automation through something like INAP’s Performance IP® can go a long way in eliminating resource drain, keeping costs reasonable and—most importantly—freeing up your team to focus on your applications.